Monday, June 19, 2006

Suburban Legends

I have resided in my current home for just a little over a year. This neighborhood could be considered upper-middle class, although these sorts of labels never meant much to me. People are people and I could get along pretty much anywhere. Having said that, however, it would be misleading to imply there aren’t certain inherent advantages to living in this kind of neighborhood. It is also true that there are some disadvantages, and how one fits in with the “look” of the neighborhood can shed some light on these factors.

The crime rate here is low. There is no poverty nearby; there are no have-nots in this neighborhood. Therefore, those inclined to less than honorable means of sustenance are not in the immediate area. Furthermore, the home values are not deflated by the intermittent unkempt property. Those that have attained this level of success are statistically better educated. They don’t generally have “jobs,” but rather, careers and can afford the price of living here. My path here was somewhat unusual, but some of these descriptors apply to me too.

There is, however, a darker side to this apparent wealth. All this higher education may have increased the collective enlightenment, but it is not apparent in the character of the neighborhood. Indeed, this neighborhood has very little character at all. Although “outsiders” are viewed with caution bordering on suspicion, the determining factor as to who is an “outsider” is not familiarity. It can’t be because no one here knows each other let alone who an “outsider” is. Therefore, if one has not the stereotypical look of an upper middle class suburbanite; if one does not drive the appropriate and appropriately new automobile; and if one fails to conform, then he is viewed through a different filter.

The picture posted here represents a contradiction and the contradiction goes well beyond the surface. It was taken last August after I was settled in and was the second occasion I had to throw a party. This one happened to be a birthday party for a friend and approximately 30 guests were in attendance. As one can gather from the photo, many of my friends are motorcyclists. Our machine of choice: Harley-Davidson. Regular readers of this blog know how I feel about riding in general and riding Harleys in particular. My neighbors don’t… or at least they didn’t (I think they do now).

These are not inexpensive motorcycles. The least expensive has a value of over $10,000 with the most expensive probably topping $40,000. These guys (and gals) represent white collar and blue collar alike. They are all highly skilled professionals and make a considerable amount of money. It is something they have in common with my neighbors, although my neighbors probably don’t have a necessarily wide enough field of vision to see it. Just as one doesn’t come to live in an area such as this by taking advantage of society, so too is it true that one does not enjoy such an expensive “hobby” with the same anti-social values.

Many of my neighbors only see the black leather, tattoos, shiny motorcycles with lots of chrome and at least one hold out (me) with long hair and they equate that to the Hollywood stereotype of the “outlaw” biker and the motorcycle gangs of the big screen. Although these do exist, they are among the extreme minority and are rarely seen is out in plain sight. The last place they would be found is in front of my home - or... out on the golf course. That’s right, some of them are avid golfers too, maybe playing right through my neighbors foursome!

I hold no animosity towards these hard working, affluent, social isolationists. I feel sorry for them – they are prejudging the richness of community right out of their lives. They are, to me so far, harmless. Only once has the cops been called on me and it didn’t amount to anything more than embarrassment for my next-door neighbor. Her preconceived idea about who I was clouded her judgment – and the sheriff’s deputy was happy to explain that to her.

Today, a year later, my neighbors actually do know at least one of their neighbors - me - by sight if nothing else. And they know that I belong here… and that from time to time there might be a motorcycle or two or three and sometimes more rumbling up the street. And they know that it’s ok. And maybe, just maybe next time they will step out of that suit of armor they feel the need to wear and risk acknowledging that they just might not know what they think they do.


awareness said...

Ah, perceptions!

Sounds like it's a very good thing you moved into the neighbourhood to rattle those little narrow thinking brains. :).

I remember one specific meeting I had with a client last year that retaught me the perception lesson.....the encounter taught it to him too. The client was young (20 yrs perhaps). He was living in the local emergency shelter, having just arrived in town the day before. After he had applied for welfare, he was booked in to see me....."the middle aged counselling lady who asks a bunch of questions." A meeting with me first, and then his cheque would be handed over to him. My role at this kind of juncture is to help a client begin to start thinking/planning their "next steps" to becoming financial self-sufficient's a little bit more complicated than that, but I won't digress.....

Before our meeting, I read the notes on his case, saw his age, saw that he was a transient, and summed him up as a "drop out, lazy guy......with many issues.....not ready to tackle reality and be responsible...."

We in a dress looking professional (but a bit funky, definately not staid looking) and he in jeans and t-shirt. I could tell from the look on his face that he was not impressed with the fact that he had to talk to me. To tell you the truth, my feeling was that it was probably a waste of time....he wasn't ready to listen.

So, we sit down in my office and the small talk happens while we size eachother up....jumping from one topic to another, trying not to step on each other's "feet"......building rapport.....finding a comfort zone of sorts.

I realize quite quickly that the person I have in front of me is a "thinker...." hmmmmmmm I ask some innocuous questions...interests, hobbies etc......and within minutes he and I realize,despite appearances have a lot in common....writing, journalling, music, politics and shared favourite authors.

"Middle age lady" and "Punk guy" end up chatting for over 2 hours. We both left the encounter with new learning.......:)

scaredofu said...

Thank you so much! I was talking about that last week, except in the reverse. Why do some people (one in particular) see me as a button-up, narrow minded person? I have never given this person reason to think this as well as I have always been exceedingly nice to him. I am not outgoing or talkative to anyone, but I do my best to put everyone at ease. Thank you for writing this piece. It makes me realize that not everyone is out there to judge!


X said...

One of my pet peeves is ignorant people. I know that this ignorance stems from isolation or where they grew up, and I am very lucky to have grow up in a large multi-cultural city, with all sorts of salaries living as one (yadda yadda yadda), but it still boggles the mind how some people just lump others into groups.

The easiest example is how many think muslims = terrorists. It's wrong, yet not many see it that way. The one I see on a daily basis because I have many friends from out of town is a Canadian specific thing - if you're from Quebec you are a) French and b) a seperatist (since the province wants to seperate from Canada). I am neither, yet sometimes have that stigma attached.

It bothers me to a certain extent because some people make a huuuuuuuge deal out of it and make "jokes," but many don't understand all the politics surrounding it. Anglos are the minority here, and we suffer for that every day, so being called a French speratist makes me have to explain the entire situation over and over again. It gets annoying. Do I hate seperatists? No, not at all. I just don't agree with their political stance.

I agree with you, I feel sorry for these people. I just wish we could live in a society where otherwise intellegent people are not quick to judge.

Anonymous said...

Good post Mike - LOVE those photos of the bikes! If I was your neighbor I'd be bummed that I wasn't invited to the party.

Ellen said...

Yup... I probably would have walked over to your house to ask for a ride. I miss those carefree motor-pickle days!

Your post reminds me of the adage: Can't judge a book by its cover....
I hope the neighbors come around to see that you are a solid citizen. Shoot, all they'd have to do is read your blog to find that out!

Snaggle Tooth said...

I dunno, ya might not be stuck-up enough for your neighborhood!

Pre-judgement based on stereo-typical notions never holds true. Sounds like they may scare easily... Mostly people fear the unknown!

Bikers n even in the clubs around here are known locally for performing helpful deeds n charity work... I know a couple people who just got into Harleys mid-age after raisin the kids, n are very happy with the choice. My neighbor in the back is one.
I know a guy whose boys grew up to design n build (frames n engines +)their own bikes, got a shop in New Hamphire.
One of my Fav NE musicians, James Montgomery has a huge biker following (blues) from the past 4 decades.

OldLady Of The Hills said...

It is so interesting because I think we are all guilty of generalized stereotyping, at times...I hate to admit it and I try not to do that because I don't want to be stereotyped myself, ever. Who does? And you put it so well about your neighbors stepping out of their armour and finding out something they thought they knew--but they didn't and they don't.
And BTW Mike, I had no idea these Harley's could cost up to
$40, 000! THAT is expensive....$10,000 is pretty expensive for pity sake! (I've never used that expression in my life before--I have no bloody idea where that came from! lol)
My brother had a Harley way back 'in the day' I believe it was used when he got it and in those days they weren't as big as they seem to be now---at least his wasn't. I would ride with him occassionallly...and it was fun! But then he had a minor accident and lost two front teeth and he gave it up! It was before helmets and stuff, too...I think it's kind of wonderful that you are broadening your neighbors view of life and giving them an education.

Michael K. Althouse said...

awareness ~ perhaps, but I was not always this open minded. Life has a way of doing that...

scaredofu ~ I try to base my percptions on action rather than appearance nowadays.

K ~ I agree, this sort of visual prejudice is even more dangerous in light of recent events.

bar ~ it was one of those parties where you had to know someone... I didn't even know all of them at the time, but I have riden with all of them since.

ellen ~ and I bet you'd have found a willing volunteer, although the back of the motorcycle is kind of sacred, it would have to one of my unattatched friends.

snags ~ the bikers around here do the same, and there is some respect between them and law enforcement. Some outlaws, huh?!

ooloth ~ oh yes, many cost much, much more. These are not the toys of the unemployable - that's for sure.

Lady Prism said...

hah!...I so know what you're talking about!...I have here lots of hoity toity neighbors...and one particularly strung up lady who lives in this really gigantic house few houses from mine ( like her cave is 10 times bigger than mine...with a pool...2 pools...a tennis court ..yah...and a chapel..ha!ha!ha!...this is so true...she get her own priest comin' in on Fridays...)...Well..she kinda'..I know...looks down on me' humble shack...looks at me in a queer she doesn't approve of what I wear or something...I just wish I had biking friends like yours...I wish I had a bike like yours...It would be a pleeeeaaaasuuure to rev up that bike and drive her insane..yaaah!...I'd probably do it...while she's having "meditative tea" in her " zen patio"...hrrrmph!!!

Christine said...

Thanks for sharing...and yes, you are correct...underneath all the gear and garb, are folks from all walks of life. Thanks for reminding me of that..once again!!

Anonymous said..., is the back of your bike taken?

Kathleen Jennette said...

Boy this post really makes sense. I get tired of explaining that to people and that it takes a lot of money to own and keep up a bike, in particular a Harley. Hope your neighbors understand that now....maybe they are just a little jealous and wishing they were more of you in that aspect?! Hmmmmmmm...

Like the pics too!!!

Vinod said...

Very interesting post.

BarbaraFromCalifornia said...

Blogging can, in some instances, seem like a chore rather than pleasure...

Seeing your blog is about your writing, and making it a daily activity, I would say that you are exactly where you are supposed to be for this moment.

As Stephenwolfe would say, "get your motor running...."